My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, dear friends, may God’s peace be with you.
In beginning these reflections on our liturgy, on the readings, and on this celebration today, I want first of all to give thanks to God. My heart is full of the spirit, a sense of reverence and awe to be called to minister, to shepherd, this Church of Washington.
While none of us knows what God has in plan for each of us, faith calls us to see God’s hand at work in our lives and to recognize God’s call in the concrete manifestations of His holy Church. In that context, I want publicly to express my gratitude to our holy father Pope Benedict XVI, for his confidence in giving me this appointment. Just three short weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit briefly with our Holy Father, and his interest in and love for the Church of Washington was evident. May God continue to bless and prosper his ministry.
I’m also grateful for the presence of Archbishoip Pietro Sambi, the pope’s personal representative. His participation in this installation makes all the more visible the Holy Father’s care for the Church of Washington. Thank you.
To the Archdiocese of Washington, and in particular to his Eminence Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has served this archdiocese so well, I want to express my profound gratitude for your warm and gracious welcome, and for your loving care and public support.
Cardinal McCarrick, you have set the bar very high, very high. As a spiritual leader, as a pastor of souls, and also as an archbishop engaged in the wider community so that the words and voice of the Gospel are always a part of whatever discussions occupy our community and our country. Your Eminence, I know I can speak for all here in expressing great and affectionate appreciation for your dedicated service to this archdiocese. May God bless you as your ministry has blessed
The words of St. Paul seem as appropriate for the Church of Washington as they did nineteen centuries ago when he addressed them to the Corinthians, so I appropriate them in this greeting to you, I give thanks, “I give thanks to my God always on your account, for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in Him you are enriched in every good way.”
Aware of my own personal limitations, I nonetheless embrace this call joyfully, with faith in God’s providential plan, a plan that includes each and every one of us, and I give thanks to God as well, that we are to begin today the next step in our faith journey together.
In all of my priestly and episcopal ministry, I have tried to do the very best I can with the collaboration and the help of all of those around me, and with reliance on God’s grace. I count on your help and prayers in our faith journey together that begins a new chapter today.
Just three weeks ago, as I prepared to leave Pittsburgh, I met with a group of youngsters who are residents in one of our diocesan homes for at-risk youngsters. And a thirteen year old spoke to me of Washington. His words, while lacking the complexity of St. Paul, were every bit as sincere. He said to me, assuring me as only a thirteen-year-old could, “Bishop, I’ve been to Washington. You’ll love it. It’s a great place.”
And I’ve already found that out in the short time that I’ve been here.
To the Church of Pittsburgh, represented here in this Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by a number of clergy and religious and lay faithful, I want to also to express my gratitude. It was there that I first heard the Gospel, was nurtured in the Sacraments, was supported in my response to the call to priesthood, and where I experienced my first pastoral ministry as a newly ordained priest. Thank you.
In this context, I want to also recognize the members of my family here present and thank you for your love and your constant support.
In the few weeks between the announcement of my appointment and today’s installation ceremony, I have been asked by a number of members of the media about my role in the Archdiocese of Washington. I answered with a response that I believe is both theologically and pastorally sound, but now I have the advantage of turning to the Catholic universities and colleges and houses of study here in the archdiocese for confirmation of my theological opinion.
The work of a bishop is the same for every shepherd. For every shepherd of a diocese, the work is identical. All of the bishops who honor this archdiocese with their presence here today share the same apostolic mission. We may approach our ministry out of our own particular gifts, but what we do is already determined by a mandate that finds its origin and definition in Jesus’ love for His flock. It is by His rule that the office and responsibilities of the Apostles continues in this manner in our age.
In his October 2003 apostolic exhortation Pastores Gregis, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II tells us a bishop is a teacher of the faith and herald of the word. He’s a minister of the grace of the High Priesthood, and he’s charged with the pastoral care of the flock entrusted to his charge. The Apostles, and their successors, like Peter in today’s Gospel, have been sent out to be witnesses to the mystery of God continuing to be with us today in and through His Church. And they’re sent to nurture that flock. Bishops are the link, the link of continuity, to the Apostles, who ensure our connectedness — the connectedness of everyone in this basilica — our connectedness, twenty centuries later, with the person of Christ, His revelation, His Resurrection, and His Eucharist.
Just a little over three weeks ago, immediately after arriving in Rome for some meetings that were already scheduled, I invited the seminarians from the Archdiocese of Washington and those from the diocese of Pittsburgh studying at the North American College in Rome to join me for the celebration of Mass in the crypt of the great basilica of St. Peter, a tradition we have had for many, many years. And we gathered just a few paces from the tomb of the head of the Apostles, Peter, and nearby the burial place of John Paul II. We stood, we prayed in this sacred space, which is a reminder to all of us, everyone in ministry, that we share the wondrous task of linking the person of Christ, His Gospel, and His love, with our world, our now.
And I am particularly grateful for so many of the cardinals, archbishops, and bishops who are present here today in this ceremony as testimony, first of all to the significance of this archdiocese, and then in witness, visible witness to our pastoral unity. Your presence honors this Church, and we are truly and deeply grateful.
It also reinforces our faith. It reinforces our faith in the visible expression of the bonds we have with one another and with our Holy Father. Our communion that brings us here today, our communion that empowers us to celebrate the Eucharist, our communion that enlivens our faith, stretches not only over the entire face of the earth. It reaches back twenty centuries to the Person of Christ.
It’s so appropriate that this Mass of Installation should take place here in Mary’s house, this great basilica in honor of the Mother of God. Just as the ineffable, transcendent, all-powerful and invisible Logos, the Word of God, took on flesh and became visible, tangible, audible, sensible to us, so all of that happened through Mary. So too does Christ, the Redeemer, the Risen Lord, now become visible, tangible, present through the mediation of the Church. And today in a particular way, assuming the responsibilities in that Apostolic line for manifesting the presence of Christ, I commend my ministry to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, and Mother of the Church.
Just one block from here is the Office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which among other things has the responsibility to present and reflect the voice and the positions of the bishops in this country on pastoral and public policy matters. To each of us, however, individually falls the weighty charge to proclaim the Faith, to apply its challenge to our day, and to unfold the implications of that Gospel to the issues and circumstances of our moment. The bishop’s first task, so we are told in the Second Vatican Council, is to teach.
As our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI so beautifully said in his encyclical letter, God is Love, the essential mission of the Church is expressed in the charge, “Proclaim the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments, and exercise the ministries of charity.” [See Deus Caritas Est, n. 25a] And I look forward to working with all of the clergy, the religious, the lay women and men of this diocese in manifesting, to the best of our abilities, the Kingdom of God here in this portion of God’s vineyard. Because the bishop is also called to offer leadership. No one, no one bishop, no one carries on this mandate alone.
As the ordination rite tells us, among the collaborators, first place goes to the priests, and I look forward to coming to know the priests of this Archdiocese whose ministry, day in and day out, expresses their fidelity to their calling, their love of Christ, and their care of God’s Church. Tuesday evening, we had our first opportunity to meet one another, and I look forward to our future ministry together. It will be a joy to join all of you in the service of this great Church.
In the months ahead, I also anticipate the opportunity to meet so many of the religious who serve with such devotion and commitment. While each and all of the members of the Church are blessed with a distinct and specific call to ministry or service, we all still form one Body, carrying out one mission. Our goal together, in our ministry, in parishes, schools, health care ministry, social service and Catholic Charities, includes as well outreach, outreach to the infirm, the elderly, the newly arrived, the needy, and most especially, the young. We are supposed to radiate the light of Christ so that in all we say and do, we might make Christ and His Gospel visible.
In an age that so desperately needs to hear the Gospel of Life and witness the splendor of truth and live the challenge of faith and reason, the Church, you and I, gathered around the successors to the Apostles, always one with Peter, must lovingly, persuasively, and fearlessly, reflect the light of Christ.
Among the saints commemorated today in the liturgical calendar, June 22, is St. Paulinus of Nola. In a letter to a bishop in Dacia, sixteen hundred years ago, Paulinus wrote words that are as relevant now as then. He taught that the task of the bishop is to instruct others so that they too might be able, in everything that they say and do, simply to echo Christ.
The first reading today reminds us that it is Christ, Whom the Father sent into the world, Who is our light. And out of darkness, God has called us into a whole new vision of life, a whole new vision of reality, a whole new way of relating to one another, a whole new way of being. And my hope is to walk with you, to work with you, to minister together with you and for you, so that Christ’s light, already shining brightly in this faith community, might continue to be reflected all the more strongly.
It’s also the role of the Church to see that the light of the Gospel shines on all of the discussions, all of the debates that help to mold our culture and our society. The voice of the most cherished values, the voice of the great teaching tradition rooted in God’s word and God’s wisdom, simply has to impact on our culture and our society. The wisdom of God is the thread that needs to be woven into that fabric that will create a truly good and just society. This aspect of ministry will bring the Church into relationships with many, many in the cultural, educational, social service, and political world. The voice of the Gospel must be heard in any discussion that involves human dignity, human solidarity, development, and ultimately holiness.
It’s also a blessing to work together with our sisters in brothers in all of those ecumenical efforts in which we’re partners. At the same time, I recognize our bonds of friendship and mutual aspirations for peace that we share with our Jewish and Muslim neighbors. It is my hope that through our labors together, the wisdom of God will continue to influence our world.
In the second reading of our liturgy, from the Acts of the Apostles, we are reminded that the Church, the enduring presence of Christ in the world, doesn’t hover formlessly over the earth. It’s structured, visible, made up of the faithful gathered around their bishop and priests. In the second chapter of that ancient book describing the Church, we find what I like to think of as the description of the first Catholic parish. They came together to pray, to listen to the teaching of the Apostles, to support one another as a community, and to celebrate the Eucharist.
On an ad limina visit to Rome some years ago, Pope John Paul II asked me, “What takes up the greatest part of your time?” My response was immediate. I left out sleeping, and concentrated on those waking hours, and said, “The greatest portion of my time is spent in sacramental ministry, especially visiting parishes.”
And I anticipate with great joy this life-giving aspect of episcopal ministry. Whether it’s in the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation, the installation of a pastor, a parish anniversary, or simply a parish visit, I look forward to visiting all of you in your parishes. The bishop’s role is also to sanctify.
Here in this Archdiocese, blessed with so many ethnic traditions and cultural backgrounds, we find broad expression of the Church. One in faith, one in Baptism, one in creed, one in her Lord, the Body of Christ is reflected, mirrored, and echoed in a vast array of cultural manifestations. And your rich faith life, that so permeates the culture and your heritage, can be for all of us an example of faith enlivening society.
In the prayers of the faithful that we will pray very shortly, we’ll hear echoes, echoes of the many ethnic traditions that are a part of this Archdiocesan Church, where Sunday liturgy is celebrated in over twenty languages. And in a particular way, I want to recognize the Hispanic, African American, and Asian ethnic Catholic communities, along with so many other smaller yet significant aspects of this Archdiocesan Church. I look forward to coming to know you as we together, in all of the manifestations of God’s grace, we manifest together the gift of faith and the grace of new life in Christ. At a level that transcends everything else we experience in our human condition, we’re made one in Christ Jesus.
One final reflection. How does this happen? How does this vision — this vision of a human family, a family that comes together in peace and harmony and justice and truth and love — how does this happen? How does the Church carry out that mission? How does the Church echo that Gospel? How does the Church sign forth that light? The answer is found in the Gospel we just listened to. Jesus, in the course of His ministry, asks Simon Peter two great questions. The right answers to both are essential to the challenges of ministry today, every day.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter for a profession of faith. “Who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You’re the Christ, You’re the Son of the Living God.” And that’s the profession each one of us makes. We have to, as a part of this vision of a better world, God’s Kingdom.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter for more. He seeks and receives a commitment to pastoral care. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” To which Peter replies, “Lord, You know that I love you.” And Jesus simply replies, “Feed My sheep.”
While the ministry of teaching, leading, and sanctifying involves many occasions and is expressed in a variety of different ways, how it is done is always governed by that command of Christ. “If you love Me, you will feed My sheep. If you love Me, you will manifest that love in the nurturing of My flock.”
What we begin today is one more chapter, a new one for us, in the life of this Archdiocese. We, the clergy, the religious, the lay women and lay men of this portion of God’s vineyard, we now continue our faith journey. Before us is a path illumined by the light of Christ, with us is the risen Eucharistic Lord strengthening us, and beyond us is a future that only God can see. But our faith journey together, beginning today, our faith journey as a part of the glorious history of this great Church is the blessing we give to one another. It’s the blessing we share with one another.
With my few talents and gifts, I pledge you, with all my heart and energy, to make this journey of faith with you and for you. May God’s love transform our efforts and make them worthy of this great Church. Thank you and God bless you.